Trouvaille is a word from the french language meaning, “a chance encounter with something wonderful”. This is exactly how I would describe my time in Ghana. My time in Ghana was purely wonderful, as I got to meet many amazing people, be immersed in a different culture, as well as move past challenges. This trip was a chance to not only explore a new country, but explore myself.
An Inward Look
One of the ways I was able to find myself in Ghana was reestablishing my love of telling stories. On our trip my main focus was to get to know the people as well as immerse myself in the culture. For example, when I interviewed Esi Atta, I felt a connection with her. Although establishing a connection with a person you are interviewing is expected, I did not anticipate the emotion I would feel from her interview. We had a language barrier between us and yet when her eyes met mine, I could understand where her heart was at. One of the main things I learned while being in Ghana was that language barriers do not limit communication or interactions.
I learned many things on my trip therefore, here is a list of “take away’s” I gathered from my Ghanaian experiences:
When I walked off the airplane, I felt a gush of hot air. I thought to myself “it won’t be this hot everyday” I was wrong!
All the food contains some level of spice
PDS – Public Display of Sweating is totally fine and not considered gross since it is so hot
Women selling things off the side of the road to cars is a common sight (you can buy things very cheaply!)
Welcoming someone is very exciting in Ghana and typically said powerfully by the word “akwaaba”
Coca-Cola taste so much better in Ghana because of the natural sugar they use to make the soda
Peanut Butter Soup is the most delicious soup I have ever had and I will miss it
“Futbol” is a passion, dream, as well as a necessity in Ghana’s culture
Ghanaian kids will call you “obruni” which means white person, but they mean it in an endearing, loving way
Although there are many things that I learned or took away from this trip, I could never express all the memories or every single way I grew. The Ghanaian people are full of love for life and one of my goals is to carry that back home with me.
Throughout history, women in Ghana have maintained traditional roles in education, workplace and their household. In each, women are expected to fulfill their traditional roles to their best ability. Women’s roles in education, the workplace, and at home have expanded in both rural and urban areas, but gender inequality remains a prominent issue. In the article, “Gender Inequalities in rural employment in Ghana: An Overview” by the Gender, Equity, and Rural Employment Division of FAO they provide statistics on gender inequalities in education, the workplace, and at home.
Gender disparities in education of women can be found in literacy rates. For example, only 29% percent of Ghanaian women are literate compared to 52% percent of Ghanaian men. The workplace is also a place that exhibits inequalities, especially in the field of agriculture which is one of the biggest areas of employment in Ghana. Ghanaian women in the household are also expected to fulfil certain roles, they typically serve as the leaders of the home.
Ghanaian Women in Education
Literacy is not the only issue women in Ghana face concerning education, they also have a lower percentage of women who get a primary education. The percentage of men who get a primary education in Ghana is 71% compared to 52% of women (Gender Inequalities.) This statistic is a vivid example of how the education gap between both men and women is still very relevant. Since there is such a prominent gap in the education of women whether in literacy or receiving a primary education, women are limited in how they can succeed. Another example of how education plays a role in how Ghanaian women succeed is their access to secondary and vocational education. Access to both upper level courses remains low with 3% of women attending secondary school and only 27% of women attending vocational school (Gender Inequalities). Although more women are pushing educational reform to be able to succeed against their male counterparts.
Ghanaian Women in the Workplace
Agriculture is the backbone of Ghana’s economy, playing an important role in ensuring food security and socio-economic development (Gender Inequalities). Ghana is a huge producer of fruits, produce, and wheat. Agriculture is made up of several different sectors including farming and market-oriented activities. Women in Ghanaian agricultural production is significant with 50% of women and 30% of female-headed households are employed in the agricultural sector (Gender Inequalities). Although in comparison to men, most women do not have the resources to expand their agriculture and produce a higher crop yield. Women have less access to technology, and they rely on rain-fed intercropping. Ghanaian women own less livestock, use less fertilizers, and own less mechanical equipment than men (Gender Inequalities.) In general, female farmer’s production is comprised of less crops than male farmers. Therefore, with less crops and little access to public credit, females have less of a chance to fund their farming. Each one of these are disadvantages to women working in agriculture and therefore sets them back from reaching their potential. Yet, even if women could produce more food than men, the food they produce can be limited. Along the road women sell their produce and food and more often the men will sell apples, grapes, gum, and electronics. Women will sell local produce, including oranges, peanuts and plantain chips. This is a global issue because international companies will contact men when they want to sell their products to be sold as they think the products will “sell better.” Women are automatically put at a disadvantage when they want to sell market items. Although this is a global issue, this still significantly impacts the women of Ghana in the agriculture workplace.
Ghanaian Women in the Household
In comparison to inequalities for women in the workforce and education, there is a wide gender gap in the time allotted to domestic activities. On average, 65 percent of men spend 0 to 10 hours per week on domestic activities, 89 percent of women spend 10 hours per week or more (Gender Inequalities). Even if some women have a job, they will still spend more time on domestic activities. The most time-consuming activities for women are cooking and taking care of household members: 11 to 10 weekly hours on average (Gender Inequalities). Women have several different roles within their households. In some regions in Ghana, there are a significant number of female-headed households in both rural and urban areas. There is a higher share of FHHs in urban areas, where they constitute 29 percent of households, compared to 20 percent in rural areas (Gender Inequalities). With so much pressure on women, this can create issues within the household such as child labor and stress for women. High dependency rates hamper household capacity to allocate labor to on-farm activities or other ingenerating activities (Gender Inequalities). As heads of the household, working and being a mother, Ghana women are strong.
Looking at different regions in Ghana and faces of women, there remains this traditional stereotype. In the village of Krofu, Esi Atta, an old woman believed to be the age of 80 or older, truly believes in the value of women. In her eyes, women are supposed to care for their families and play the traditional role of a mother, but to Atta this role is most important and especially most valued. Like Atta, Joyce Ottu the housekeeper of a homestay family as well as a seamstress, believes women are strong and what they do makes them even stronger. She too believes in the traditional role of women, but in part that all women no matter what their job is have an important job in society. Eva Boadu and Winnie Sey’Adjei are employers at the Aya Center. Eva is a young, independent, strong woman. She believes in education for woman and does not let stereotype bring her down. Like Eva, Winnifred is a strong, beautiful wife and mother to her one year old son. Winnie believes in the power of women, but as a Christian she also believes in having men as the head of the household. Winnie will always make sure she her son and husband are taken care of because as a wife and a mother that is her role. These three women deal with the triple burden of life, but they are powerful and can overcome them through education and the workplace. Despite stereotypes, women of Ghana defeat them. Without powerful, strong women in society, many roles in society could not exist. Women are full of knowledge and power. Each of these women are unique, special and beautiful in their own way; they are the women of Ghana.
In the readings, “The Funeral as a Site for Choreographing Modern Identities in Contemporary Ghana” by: Esi Sutherland-Addy, and “China in Africa: What’s the Real Story?” by: Xie Tao, I made connections between the similarities and differences of Ghana’s culture to western and European cultures. I learned that funerals here in Ghana are a big production as well as a huge celebration of life. Even though they are sad, the ultimate hope that their body is going to heaven (for the Christians here in Ghana) or another afterworld outweighs the bad. As for the Chinese traditions, from the second article, I have learned that Chinese culture is a lot more prominent than expected in an African culture.
Funerals in Ghana
Unlike the funerals in America, Ghanaian funerals are an “elaborate affair” and like I said they are thought of as a celebration rather than a sad event. The article by Esi Sutherland-Addy explains in depth the intense funeral ceremonies and the traditions that are performed when having a funeral. “Asmando” is the word for place of afterlife which is what the Ghanaian people believe and why their funerals are so important. Whether the person is Christian or not determines how they think or afterlife and their funeral services.
When a dead person is being prepared for a funeral, their identity as well as socio-economic status is considered. This means that the body is dressed in their best clothes and put with the items that display their socio-economic status the most. The body’s physical appearances is what is going to display how their life was, therefore appearances matters.
One aspect of Ghanaian funerals that captured my attention was the unity of the Christian community. Sutherland-Addy uses the example of Oyeeman Wereko Ampem’s funeral. At his funeral, multiple sectors of the Christian faith were represented such as:
Each ones of these sectors of Christianity were present at his funeral to help contribute to the final parting ceremonies. Also among the influence of Christianity in Oyeeman’s funeral, the English language was used in both the practicing and planning of the funerals.
China’s Influence on Africa
Even though the country of China is still oceans away from the continent of Africa, its influence on African culture is significant as Xie Tao writes in his article. In Ghana alone, there are around 70,00 Chinese living and working in Ghana. Therefore the appearance of a Chinese restaurant on the streets in Accra, Ghana the capital of the country, is not a rare sight.
The Chinese living in Ghana have faced many challenges from the government because of their history in the country. The Chinese were known for illegally mining for gold in the country as well as poaching endangered animals. Through these bad things though, the Chinese have brought many positive things into the country of Ghana such as:
Building and staffing hospitals
Providing money to build stadiums
Providing other professional personnel
The Chinese have also given other opportunities to Ghanaian and African people by offering study away options, currently there are about 60,000 African students studying in China. Chinese culture is evident in Ghanaian culture and by any means is not bad as Xie says, “bad stories about China may have crowded out good stories about China in both African and Western media outlets”. Instead, the Chinese influence on African and Ghanaian society just adds cultural diversity.
A 4:30 wake up is considered ridiculously early for any person living in the U.S., but here in Ghana that is the regular wake up time for Joyce Ottu, a seamstress as well as housekeeper for her aunt and uncle. Her routine once she is dressed and ready for the day starts with sweeping both inside and outside the patio of her aunt and uncle’s house. After getting some of her chores done, she gets ready to walk to work which is five minutes away from the house.
Once she gets to work, she tends to her sewing orders which usually includes making a skirt or dress. Each of these items she can get done in a day, a skirt typically takes an hour while a dress takes around two hours. The amount of time to finish these items is very fast considering the fact that she sews all her items using a hand spun sewing machine.
Joyce exhibits characteristics of a hard-working Ghanaian woman. She is truly inspiring in the way she embraces life as well as her diligent work ethic. When asked what empowers her, she responds immediately saying her seamstress job. She uses her creative abilities as well as her outgoing personality to make people happy through clothes. She is easily empowered by her job because she knows it is something she is good at and can make other people with.
From a far distance, this man is noticeable, not because of his wheelchair, but instead the smile that runs across his face. His smile is accompanied by a distinct laugh as well a happy voice. These features surprise me because I did not expect him to be as happy as he was, instead I expected him to be angry and sad.
The reason I expected this man to be sad is because of his physical disabilities. Something was obviously wrong with his legs, which did not seem like the biggest issue. Instead, his wheelchair was what was hindering him the most. His wheelchair was covered in mud, one wheel was falling off and was tied by string to hold it together.
Going Beyond Expectations
I expected this man to be angry and sad about this. How could a person live in a village with a non-functioning wheelchair? Especially a village where the roads were bumpy and unpaved. Instead, this man expressed happiness. Not only was he welcoming to our group but positive and exuberant the entire time we were there. He played the drum shown in the picture to an upbeat rhythm the entire time we were there.
While he was playing his drum, I realized that this man’s happiness comes from joy within the community. He is happy even through the hard conditions he is living through. I was inspired by this man because he is truly being a role model for the people and kids of the village, by remaining happy through life’s imperfections.
These faces do not carry sadness and do not exhibit poverty but rather joy. The Village of Krofu, is a place of elation among the children up through their elders. Krofu is a rural community in between the towns of Cape Coast and Accra. The word “rural” in the community often implies that it is a place of overwhelming poverty but the town’s expectations are just different than those of an urban community.
One of the aspects of the Krofu community that imparts unity is how the community is centered around its schools. These schools start with the primary school which is elementary age and extend to secondary school which is middle school age. When we arrived, all the children were in school but were immediately disrupted and elated by our arrival. Everyone in the community came to greet us, including the chief and I began to see some unique faces.
Esi Atta is quite the unusual face amongst all the people in the Krofu Village. As kids are running everywhere and mothers are chasing after them, Atta is the sense of calm among the storm. Not only is she calm, but she is beautiful. Her eyes piercing, her words soothing by speaking the local language Twi, and the wrinkles on her skin are imprints from the sun. Not only does her physical appearance stand out, but the way she carries herself.
From the outside looking in, one would guess Atta to be very old but no one truly knows her age. Back when she was growing up, calendars were not a source of time, rather the moon and since of seasons were signals as to what day it was or what time of year it was. Therefore, based on educated guesses, Atta is assumed to be around the age of 85-90.
Atta’s presence in the village is truly overwhelming as she has people surrounding her constantly. Krofu was the village in which she was born, and later moved back to because of family roots. As a young child, she moved away to Kumasi (another region of Ghana) to live and work with her uncle. One of the reasons why she returned to Krofu was to be with her mother, children, and grandchildren. Atta had multiple children but all of them passed away except one, who now lives with her and her children in the village. The entire Krofu community holds significant meaning to her because of her family (whether they are blood related or not) being there.
Atta’s life story contains background pieces that hold standard of a traditional Ghanaian woman. She believes that traditional Ghanaian women are tasked with getting married, having children, and raising those children to be people who will make their community proud. She says that woman are tasked with showing children how to “take care of the community so that the community can put on their best clothing”.
Part of Atta’s life story is how she used to be a market woman. She used to make kenkey (a traditional Ghanaian dish) and bring it to the market in Mankessim to sell. When she was there to sell her kenkey, she would also buy things and bring home food to cook to feed her family. In Atta’s words, she was “supporting her family through trade” and continued to do so until her body could not sustain the work anymore. She eventually had to stop due to illness.
Now that Atta is done making kenkey, she is standing as a traditional figure in the village of Krofu, where she offers up her advice to mothers around her, or loves on the children pulling at her skirt. Atta is continuing to offer up her traditional views even though the world’s perceptions or expectations of women are changing.
In the readings, “Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices” by Stuart Hall and then “Ghana: Soft Control of the Press” by Jo Ellen Fair, I connected to how both the use of language and expression of news is used in media. By reading Hall’s article, I exhibit below how language can be linked to media. By reading the following article I explain how Fair uses the example of soft control to express how media represses our news today. Although these two article are different both of their topics correlate to how media is used today to express news or a single story. I believe that the correlation of language and the soft control of news are important topics to be discussed while examining mass media.
Language as Representation
While I was in the Krofu Village, I was wondering about the relationship of language and meanings. One thing I have learned while being here in Ghana is that language “facilitates cultural communication”. While in the Krofu Village, communicating with the village people was difficult because of the language barrier. The native language of the Krofu people was Twi, the local language, which I was not able to understand. In the book “Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices” Stuart Hall brings up the important question of how does language construct meaning?
Language is directly tied to cultural for example through hand gestures or body movement. Not only is language used as a cultural signifier but it is used to represent news. Language can control the use of “soft control” news or hard hitting news. Soft control is a method of press control, meaning that the smaller questions are becoming the hard ones for journalist to ask due to fear of being fired or reprimanded.
As said above, culture is directly correlated to language but it is also a defining factor of news and how news is spread or understood. No matter where you are, whether you are in Ghana, England, or the United States culture is used this way. Translations of any language is used frequently because the words spoken between people of different languages “facilitates cultural communication while always recognizing the persistence of difference and power between different speakers within the same cultural circuit” as Stuart Hall says.
Relationship between Language and Soft Control
As I previously mentioned above, language “facilitates cultural communication” therefore language is a key factor in how news is represented. In the article “Ghana: Soft Control of the Press” by Jo Ellen Fair, Ghana’s use of press and journalism is studied and how “soft control” of news is presented. Language is a key factor in this article’s focus of soft control because of the way African Press and Journalist depict their news through media.
Language promotes each press member or journalist to be eager as Jo Ellen Fair says: “reporters need to be eager to be professional, relevant, and hard hitting: prepared to raise big questions abstractly but cautious, even diffident on details.” Each of the characteristics differ when culture and language is implemented. For example, language and culture in the United States will be different from Ghana therefore meaning that news will be different as well. For example, television in Ghana uses the other cultural influences with their production of Telenovelas which is predominately known as being Mexican or Indian.
Soft Control of News
Journalists in any different country are inhibited by the use of soft control on media. Although this does not sound completely detrimental, soft control represses news. Media uses soft news to maintain composition of their journalists. Therefore, the media is technically controlling what their viewers do and do not see.
Jo Ellen Fair is adamant in saying that soft control on news is not just repressing journalist but their stories that the readers or listeners are processing. Although Fair solely focuses on the effect of soft control on Ghana and their media, I believe that the aspect of soft control is detrimental to our media in the United States as well. The media is taking advantage of their viewers by deciding what they expose or write about and what information their viewers will receive.
In the article, “How to Write about Africa” by Binyavanga Wainaina as well as the article “Ghana’s Uneasy Embrace of Slavery’s Diaspora” by Lydia Polgreen, different stereotypes or beliefs of Africa from many Americans are presented in a way that challenge how Americans should look at the African people. I agree with both Wainaina as well as Polygreen, and I believe that the stereotypes they present in each article are perceptions that different groups of people believe. As an American, I believe that many Americans think of Africa and its people is completely despondent. The different connotations many Americans think of the African people, government, and economy is undermining to their society as well as their normal ways of life. I will be addressing some of the stereotypes presented in Wainaina’s article and tie them into how they relate to Polygreen’s article about African American’s returning to Africa.
Darkness, Safari, Congo, Tribal
Each of these words are used in America to describe the continent of Africa – which is often thought of and referred to by some Americans as being one country. These depictions are not only negative but are utterly wrong. There is a country called Congo, there are amazing safari expeditions that happen on the continent in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, but not every country has exotic animals and safaris. For example, the country of Ghana is not a country known for animals, rather a place known for exploring the heritage of people instead. “How to Write About Africa” refers to these different names as a way some Americans depict Africans as abnormal.
Among other abnormal depictions, the article also pointed to the fact that some Americans think of Africans as always impoverished. Deferring from this fact, not all Africans are poor. I believe one of the main reasons as to way some Americans may consider all Africans to be poor is how they are shown in media. They are shown as the naked men or women with their ribs protruding, flat breasts, surrounded by bugs, and overall looking and seeming helpless.
Because of these media depictions, Americans from all over think of Africans as being sad, poor and hopeless. Rather an overwhelming amount of the people are filled with joy. Like any other human beings though, people get sad, life gets hard and living conditions are assorted. Just because mission trips happen in these countries, or because their living conditions may be on different standards to does not make them unhappy. Most Africans can be happy and are not always empty of food or a content soul.
The Door of Return
Another topic of significance that is surrounded by the topic of African Americans returning to Africa. In the article, “Ghana’s Uneasy Embrace of Slavery’s Diaspora” Ghanaians seem to be very hesitant of African Americans returning to their home country. The Ghanaian government is proposing for the locals to welcome the African American visitors with open arms with the saying “akwaaba anyema” or welcome brother or sister. Many African Americans are coming to the country of Africa and in particular, Ghana to see their heritage from the slave trade. Therefore, the saying “door of return” comes from previously enslaved Africans and the family of the enslaved who want to seek out their heritage. They can seek out their homeland with a renewed sense of “home” through their personal history and education of what the slave trade was really like. The “door of return” for visitors is often to one of the multiple slave castles. See the slideshow below for pictures of El Mina Slave Castle in the Cape Coast region of Ghana.
Ghanaians struggle with accepting the African Americans coming to renew their heritage or see where it “all began” therefore the Ghanaians pose the stereotype saying “obruni” meaning white person. Even if the person visiting is an African American they are still called “obruni”. This word is a stereotype used by the Ghanaian which refers to the white people or American people as being rich and have lots of money. Many Africans fail to connect with African Americans and others who have family that originated from Africa because of the mutual stereotypes that draw a strict line between each group of people, even if they have the same color skin.
This little boy, whose name is unknown, was one of the first Ghanaian people that captured my attention. Ghana was still a new place with so many aspects of culture shock when I saw him. Yet this eight year old provided a smile, a laugh, and a warm face that eased my nerves for the upcoming adventures we were going to have on our trip.
Right when my eyes met his, our whole group was walking into his mother’s restaurant and when he saw us, his immediate response was “oh gosh”. I suspect that this reaction was because we must have been the largest group of “white” or “American” people he has ever seen. After this reaction, the little boy ran away and preceded to hide back in the kitchen with his mother. It was not until we had almost finished eating when he came back out again.
Watching and Waiting
While we were finishing up our meal, he brought himself out of the kitchen and positioned himself in the corner where he could silently watch us. He did not express many emotions, instead just stared at us as if he was soaking our appearances or taking in the moment of having us there.
He and I made eye contact again, and with that, I got up and decided to talk to him. Although he could understand only limited English, I learned a few things about him. One being that he is a funny, typical eight year old boy. He was tickled by my questions, my expressions, as well as just the fact that I was making the effort to connect with him.
One thing that the little boy said to me was that his favorite book was about a caterpillar who turned into butterfly. This one ingenuous change of life fascinated him and therefore fascinated me because he made this transformation seem so incredibly simple.
As I stepped off the plane into the country of Ghana, which inhabits the western region of Africa, my attention was engulfed by the beautiful faces that turned my way. Whether the faces reacted scared to see a white body or greeted us with the warm welcome saying “akwaaba”, I felt captured as we were the center of attention. Before going on this trip, I knew that the Caucasian race was the minority here and the term they use for white people “obruni” only reflects the minority more.
By completely disregarding the color of my skin and by being a minority, I find myself exceedingly captivated by these beautiful Ghanaian faces and their lives. These people and their culture may be described by Americans as impoverished or sad when really these people do not know any different. Therefore, throughout this trip my goal is to meet Ghanaian people and learn about their lives. Talking about their families, jobs, or their overall perception of living in the country of Ghana is how I will step foot into their culture and not just be a typical “obruni”. I want to know what stories lie beneath the faces of Ghana.
Tremendous strength, organization, and patience lies within the woman pictured above. Winnie is the group coordinator and activities planner for the Aya Center in the heart of Accra, Ghana. The Aya Center is a place of learning for international students, therefore Winnie’s job is different from many others in Ghana, as she orchestrates trips of learning and cultural experiences of foreigners. Therefore, not only does she exhibit the qualities listed above, but also diligence, spontaneity, and care. Winnie acts as an interpreter for us as she speaks all the local languages, and goes with the flow based on how our group is reacting that day.
Simply put, Winnie works incredibly hard. She is young and is often pulled away from her family because of how much travel her work requires. She has a baby who is a year and half years old as well as a husband. Even though the job sphere here in Ghana is different, the work ethic is comparable to a hard-working American. Winnie is helping to provide for her family as well as be an example to her son to work hard even if it requires her leave to leave her comfort zone.
Some things that inspire Winnie is her son as well as the energy of negativity. Primarily, her son empowers her to be a strong mother and example. One of her goals is to show her son that gender does not matter in the workforce and that by setting personal goals you can achieve anything.
Winnie is also empowered by the energy of negativity because she does not believe that being negative can get you anywhere in life. Rather, she believes that the power of positivity is a force that can not be broken. Within her job, negativity makes her strive to do the best she can. Since her job involves her communicating with lots of people, she has to stand her ground. One of the most commendable characteristics of Winnie is that negativity surrounding woman in the workplace or household is what drives her to work harder. Winnie’s positive energy and strong attitude are characteristics that any woman would be lucky to possess.